Learn which topics you are most likely to be asked about on the CCRN exam.
CCRN certification is a necessary step for any critical care nurse who wishes to improve their patient outcomes and further their career. To obtain certification, you need to meet a minimum number of hours (and years) working directly in providing acute nursing care to the critically ill patient. You also need to pass a certifying exam that assesses your critical care knowledge. Nurses often avoid taking this vital step in their career because they fear the exam process. However, with adequate preparation and an understanding of what to expect on the test, nurses can succeed in obtaining board certification as a critical care nurse. Let’s explore the topics you will especially want to focus on when doing CCRN sample questions.
How The CCRN Test Is Written
Before we get started looking at frequently covered exam topics, it is helpful to have a background in understanding how the test is made. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses Certification Corporation creates the exam. This branch of the AACN develops the CCRN exam by using three volunteer committees:
- Practice Analysis Task Force Committee – Identifies the current theories and trends in evidence-based nursing care with surveys and research
- Item Writing Committee – Writes questions based on the results gathered from the practice analysis task force
- Exam Development Committee – Verifies that test questions are meaningful, fair, and applicable to current critical care nursing practice while ensuring they are legally defensible.
A board of directors must approve the test questions and test plan before releasing it for use.
Interestingly, the AACN surveys nurses across the country to gather data about what nursing trends they are seeing in their practice. With the information pulled from these surveys, the AACN can guarantee that they are asking relevant, up-to-date, and useful questions for nurses all over the country. Through these surveys, specific trends emerge, giving rise to commonly seen topics on the CCRN exam.
The CCRN Test Plan
It is crucial to know the breakdown of the categories you will be tested on when you start studying for the exam. The CCRN Exam Handbook from the AACN gives all nurses access to the current test plan. Again, this plan is based on the data gathered by the Practice Analysis Task Force Committee.
Test plans can vary depending on whether you certify for neonatal, pediatric, or adult critical care. The most current Adult CCRN Test Plan was revised as of March 2020 and includes the following topic breakdown:
Clinical Judgement (80%)
- Cardiovascular (17%)
- Respiratory (15%)
- Endocrine/Hematology/Gastroitnerestinal/Renal/Integumentary (20%)
- Musculoskeletal/Neurological/Pyschosocial (14%)
- Multisystem (14%)
Professional Caring & Ethical Practice (20%)
- Covers patients advocacy, caring practices, diversity, facilitation of learning, collaboration, systems thinking, and clinical inquiry.
The exam primarily focuses on “testable nursing actions,” such as recognizing and responding to changes in patient status, following protocols, and initiating interventions. For a further breakdown of CCRN sample questions and testable nursing actions pertinent to your patient population, you can access the CCRN Exam Handbook here.
CCRN Sample Questions To Focus On When You Are Studying
You may already be aware of this based on your own nursing practice, but certain trends are commonly seen in the critical care arena. And, because real nurses are regularly surveyed across the country, the AACN makes sure the CCRN exam reflects these trends with relevant questions.
Here are frequently covered topics on the CCRN exam:
- Electrolyte Imbalances
- Diabetes Insipidus
- Hemodynamic parameters (such as SVR, cardiac output/index, MAP, PA Pressure)
- Renal Impairment
Remember, the CCRN exam likes to focus on testable nursing actions. Therefore, when you study topics like diabetes insipidus (DI), make sure you know what your nursing actions will be in treating this patient. Likely, you will not see a question like “What causes diabetes insipidus?” Rather, you will see a question that assumes you already have this knowledge of the pathophysiological process behind DI and will want you to apply the right action to either identify or manage this patient.
How To Structure Your Preparation
There are a few ways you can prepare for the CCRN exam:
- Create a self-guided study plan
- Use a CCRN review book
- Take a CCRN review course (online or in-person)
No matter how many years you have been in critical care, you will need to study for the CCRN exam. Figuring out a study plan can feel almost as daunting as sitting down in the test center on exam day. Yet, if you structure your preparation and remember to hone in on commonly asked questions, you can feel better prepared and more confident on test day.
When you create a study plan, make sure you allocate enough time for each testing category. Remember, the bulk of the 150 questions on the exam will cover Clinical Judgement, whereas only 20% will cover nursing practice and ethics.
That 20% is important, so don’t brush it off, but make sure the majority of your study time focuses on reviewing common patients and nursing actions in the critical care setting. An essential part of the study process is taking practice questions. Once you review a section, such as renal impairment, you will want to take practice questions that assess your application of this material.
The more test questions you take the better prepared you will be on test day. Additionally, while test questions are not meant to trip you up, it is essential to know how to read and interpret them. You can arrive at the correct answer with plenty of practice, even if you cannot recall that information right away during the exam.
Most nurses do not have the time to create and structure their own CCRN study plan, let alone execute it. That is why CCRN review courses are vital for helping nurses prepare and excel on the CCRN exam. If you want to have access to the most relevant content, CCRN sample questions, and a study plan that is guaranteed to help you pass, study with Critical Care Academy.
Our course is mobile-friendly with easily digestible video modules that contain the information you need to know and connects you with instructors and other nurses across the country.
Ready to advance your career and save more lives?
Register for Critical Care Academy.